Implementing Community Health Workers into Pharmacy Reduces Health Equities, SDOH

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Adding a community health worker can improve the overall health equity for your patients.

In a presentation at the 2024 McKesson ideaShare conference, Katherine Bass, PharmD, pharmacy owner of San Joaquin Drug Inc, shared that community health workers (CHWs) play a pivotal role in fostering health equity and addressing disparities within their communities.

 Low angle of female pharmacist transmitting medication and jolly man holding girl - Image credit: zinkevych | stock.adobe.com

Image credit: zinkevych | stock.adobe.com

From the American Public Health Association, a CHW is defined as a frontline public health worker that is a trusted member of/or has an unusually close understanding of the community where the pharmacy serves. A trusting relationship between the CHW and community members enable the worker to serve as a liaison between health and social services to ultimately improve the quality and delivery of care.

“They [CHWs] provide a wide array of services—community outreach, home visits, health education, counseling, care management, and coordination They work with health care and social service providers—and really, they're an advocate for the patient,” said Bass.

The role of a CHW is intertwined with health equity and social determinants of health (SDOH), both as a focus on historical and contemporary injustices and to eliminate preventable health disparities and inequities.

Bass noted that CDC Healthy People 2030 sets data-driven national objectives in 5 areas of SDOH, which include health care access and quality, education access and quality, social and community context, economic stability, and neighborhood and built environment. She emphasized that among these focuses, pharmacy and CHWs can appropriately aid the first key area—health care access and quality.

Bass highlighted a winning formula that aligns CHWs with health equity and SDOH, noting that CHWs help patients from the community connect to local resources leading to an improvement in SDOH which leads to real health equity.

However, before implementing CHWs into the pharmacy, there are requirements that vary from state-state, often needing the CHWs to complete a certificate training program. To enter the profession, CHWs need at least a high school diploma, but certain employers prefer to hire candidates that have postsecondary education.

“The [CHWs] typically train on the job. They learn about topics useful in their work, including communication style, outreach, advocacy methods, and legal and ethical issues. Some CHWs participate in apprenticeships, or other structured programs that provide opportunities for extensive education and hands on experience, and that's a lot of the social worker stuff, so [it can be] a little bit different than what we might do in the pharmacy,” Bass said.

When choosing a CHW to include in your pharmacy staff, it is essential that the individual aligns with the community in which the pharmacy is serving to better assist patients. Once a CHW is hired, it’s the pharmacist’s role to empower their work. Bass said this can be done by listening and understanding, promoting autonomy, find opportunities for growth and learning, provide constructive feedback and realistic expectation, involve them in important decisions, and being kind and leading by example.

As the role CHWs are expanding, along with the growth around SDOH, Bass noted that there is a large amount of money being dedicated to getting these services established.

“I think through COVID-19, not only did it emphasize the amount of inequities in our health care system, I think a lot of people took notice that pharmacist were one of the few addressing these inequities already. We are already in the rural space. We are already tapping into these patients. I think there's a lot more light shining on pharmacist, so I think this is a great space. [Pharmacists] are already doing this. I can't think of a pharmacy that isn't just telling people about food banks and talking about disease states. We're doing this stuff, so I think it's time we start getting paid for doing that,” said Bass.

Reference
Bass K. Bridging Gaps and Cultivating Health Equity: The Role of Community Pharmacy. Presented At: McKesson ideaShare; June 23-26, 2024. New Orleans, Louisiana.
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